Boundary Setting with Teens - Not that Easy!
by Angie Carter
There has been much talk about boundary setting when it comes to dealing with teens or other loved ones who are dependent on alcohol, substances, or other compulsive behaviors that are harmful. It is definitely not an easy task to implement.
First of all, knowing that the relationship or "dance" between you and the addicted person has to change is important. The way you have previously interacted is going to be different. You are aware that the steps to the "dance" are about to change but the other person may not be fully aware of that, or want any part of it.
Once you begin to move in a new way or direction, the other person says "Hey, wait a minute! You're not suppose to do that, you're suppose to do this!" When you choose not to go back to old ways of handling things, the person may become very angry because now they don't know what is coming next, or they may not have things the way they want it. You may even become the lead person in your dance with them!
There are several important things to remember when setting a boundary with someone. First off, think the boundary through. Maybe even write it down so you can see the boundary. Know what is acceptable, unacceptable and what is negotiable when it comes to where you draw the line.
Example: Michael has a 10 pm curfew. It is acceptable that he comes in at 10:10 because you have a given him a 15 minute window. It is unacceptable that he come in smelling like marijuana or alcohol. The weekend curfews can be negotiable because of certain events he may want to attend.
Once you decide what the boundary is, you next have to decide what the consequence will be if the boundary is crossed. This is where many parents feel like they have no leverage. Sometimes you have to get creative when implementing consequences.
But the most important part of setting a boundary with a teen is the follow-through. This is where most parents fall short. They tend to give in when the teen becomes angry enough. Frequently, the parent cannot stick to the time-frame of the consequence, if there is one.
Many parents cannot "afford" the parent-directed anger a teen displays when a consequence is put in place. Many parents do not have the ego strength to withstand the feelings that are produced from dealing with an angry child. Or sometimes parents give in because of guilt feelings. Maybe the teen only has one parent, or they are financially strapped and the parent cannot afford to buy things for their teen. There are even times when the guilt a parent experiences is a result of not spending enough time and energy with their teen.
Learning about your own inner landscape and how your feelings contribute to your relationships will help you to better understand how to set boundaries and maintain them. It is a process and requires time and patience, with yourself and your teen.
Starting out with what I call "bottom line boundaries" is a good place to begin -- The things that are NOT negotiable, such as no drinking and drugging. Having a concise, well thought out consequence is a must for this kind of boundary. Again, the follow through is the most important part. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Do not put the consequence out there unless you know you can and will follow through.
In my next post I will list some consequences that parents can implement and what you can do if the boundary is crossed.